ThinkPad X201S Review

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In my opinion, the ThinkPad X201S is the pinnacle of ThinkPad design.  It’s small, light, fast, has a perfect keyboard, high-resolution screen, and an optional dock.  It was a hard laptop to find, but for my uses, is a better option than even the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon.

As the happy owner of a ThinkPad X200s, I have been keeping my eyes peeled on eBay for the replacement model, the X201s.  From the outside, the two are virtually indistinguishable.  The weight is the same, the size is the same, most of the body parts are swappable.  The likeness, however, is only skin-deep.  The big difference between the X200s and the X201s is the Core i7 2.13GHz CPU and newer integrated Intel GPU that replaced the Core 2 Duo X200s CPU/GPU combo.  The difference is very noticeable indeed.

The X201s feels instantaneous, even coming out of sleep.  Mine is paired with the SanDisk Extreme SSD that I had in the X200s.  Applications launch pretty much immediately, there’s no lag on resume.  The GPU in the X200s was fine for the internal display, but Unity 3D with a 24″ monitor taxed it a bit.  Not so with the X201.  The newer GPU is a huge step forward.  The system just flies.

Port-wise, the X201s is the same as the X200s.  It has two USB 2.0 ports, one that can always provide power.  It has an Ethernet port, PC Card port, SD slot, Kensington lock, old-school modem, separate headphone and mic ports, an optional finger print reader, optional trackpad, and optional webcam.  Mine has the SD and fingerprint reader, but lacks the trackpad and webcam.  Perfect.

Thankfully, the speedier ThinkPad X201s does it’s job while maintaining the practical silence of the X200s.  I am extremely picky about fan noise and was very worried that the X201s’ improved CPU and GPU would mean hotter and louder operation.  If anything, the fan seems to kick on a little less.  My other major concern was battery life.  I would consistently get between 4-5 hours on a charge with the 6 cell battery.  The X201s seems to almost double this, likely through the more aggressive power management of the i7 CPU.  I can easily get between 6-8 hours of normal use, up to 10 for light work.  In fact, I’ve swapped out the standard 6-cell battery with the lighter 4-cell and find the battery life to be about the same as the X200s with the 6-cell, all in less than 3lbs!

For fans of the ThinkPad X200s thinking of upgrading, have no fear about regression.  You get the same great 12″ 1440×900 screen, the same great keyboard, size, and weight, all in a faster package.  The only downside is that I’ve read that the machine can’t accept 16GB of RAM.  However, I have mine running well so far with 12GB of RAM, so I’m not sure if this is something that was corrected in a BIOS update, or perhaps only affects Windows.  8GB of RAM is supported by Lenovo, which is still plenty by late-2012 standards.

So far, this is just a slightly more refined, faster X200s.  I can say without question that this is the pinnacle of ThinkPad design for me.  This laptop is the last of a long line of excellent machines.  It was the last 16:10 screen and has the highest resolution.  After this came the X220.  It boasts a bigger 12.5″ screen but with a significantly lower resolution.  The X220 is also heavier than the X201s.  Most recently, Lenovo released the excellent ThinkPad X1 Carbon.  With a 14″ 1600×900 IPS display, it’s tempting.  However, for my needs, the X201s is a better fit.  It’s smaller, lighter with the 4-cell battery, has the perfect ThinkPad keyboard, an ethernet port, VGA, and works with a dock.  It may be thicker and a little less stylish than the X1 Carbon but it’s faster, has better ports, boasts a replaceable battery and a standard 2.5″ hard drive.  If you’re looking for small and light, I honestly think that the X201s is the perfect laptop.

The Lenovo ThinkPad X201s is a bit of a rare bird.  It’s been discontinued by Lenovo.  If you keep your eyes peeled, you can occasionally find them on eBay.  The one I bought was the first I’d seen since July.  It was $500CDN and was worth every penny.

GoSaBe Blog - Jan 4, 2013 | Hardware, Linux